Grapeshot Travel Story: Nick goes to Borneo and Malaysia

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Name: Nicholas Wasiliev

Place Travelled: Sabah Province, Borneo, Malaysia

What was your favourite city and why? 

 Kota Kinabalu, the capital and largest city of Sabah. This place really sums Malaysia, being in a place in transition; undergoing massive development, but also retaining a lot of local feel. Affectionately nicknamed ‘KK’, this city has amazing and varied markets, a great vibe, both during the day and at night, it is proximity of it to many of Sabah’s best sights, and has many beaches, mosques and museums. Additionally, everything here is incredibly cheap everything, from accommodation and food to accessories (seriously, I was able to get a brand new camera for 120 Malaysian Ringgit, or about $40).

Additionally, they even have a very small Australian themed bar on the waterfront which broadcasts one AFL match every round for those missing home. If you guys are looking for a tropical paradise that is cheap as hell, and a little more off the beaten path compared to places like Thailand, this place is definitely for you. Also, language is not so much of an issue. Most people don’t speak English but nearly all places have menus and locations in English. Officially, it is one of the main languages of the area.

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 Five items that were absolute must have on your trip to Borneo and Malaysia? 

  • Swimmers and towel- Borneo is located on the equator, so it gets bloody damn hot here. This makes going for a dip all the more refreshing.
  • Sunscreen and mosquito spray- a must have. my German heritage meant a burnt to a crisp here, so sunscreen is a godsend. Mossies can get pretty annoying if you are up in the national park and jungle, so bring that too.
  • Raincoat or umbrella- when it rains, it rains bloody hard. Enough said.
  • Light clothing – you need clothing that allows you to breathe. Don’t just take singlets, shorts and thongs though, partly because Malaysia is a conservative Muslim country, but also because if you go travelling in the jungle, there is no shortage of leeches and other blood suckers around the place.
  • Your wallet- Get ready to spend, cause things here are dirt cheap compared to home! However, make sure you have cash, most places don’t do any sort of card at all. Also be wary, some places may raise the price for all you European looking people out there…

 Did you find any sights or activities down the road less travelled?

This is one thing Sabah is not short of. There are three main islands off the coast of KK, each with a private resort, which is an absolute must. These include beaches, walks, scuba-diving on coral reefs and the world’s longest island-to-island zip-line!

The world-heritage listed Kinabalu National Park lies just beyond KK, encompassing much of interior jungle of Borneo. With hundreds of hiking areas, and unique flora and fauna, the biggest highlight is Mt. Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in South-East Asia (4,096m). Additionally, you can fly to Sandakan for jungle treks and river cruises, where you can see monkeys, birds, and (if you’re extremely lucky) Asian elephants.

In addition to resorts and hotels within KK, there is also the Shangri-La resort, a great place for a day trip (with a golf course, private beaches and shows), or a great place to stay for those willing to spend a lot. However, the most famous sight is the Shangri-La Orangutan Sanctuary, in addition to the world-famous Sepilok Orangutan and Sun-Bear sanctuary in Sandakan; orangutans are the main sight of Sabah, and a chance to see these animals up close is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that sadly, may not be around forever.

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 #TBT to the weirdest thing to happen to you on your trip to Borneo and Malaysia? 

In Borneo, people like me (being 6ft 2’) stick out against the crowd. Often that means that people, particularly sellers, try and get you to buy stuff.

One day, we were shopping in Kota Belud, looking for a cheap bargain in terms of clothes. I was determined to try and find a shirt that fitted me, so I started for shirts and trying them on. However, every time I put on a shirt, not matter the size, it wouldn’t fit me. Even when I finally asked for the largest shirt that they had, a 3 XXL, it still wouldn’t fit, which was pretty damn embarrassing.

Turns out a 3 XXL probably equals to an S in Australia terms. If only I’d known that earlier; could’ve saved myself from serious embarrassment. So ask before you try, and definitely try before you buy.

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Mandatory student austerity question: What was the budget like for travelling Borneo and Malaysia? 

The budget in Sabah is excellent for those looking to travel light. While I was in Borneo, many travellers that I came across were travelling across all of Asia on a shoestring budget. This place is made for budget travellers (even more than Thailand!)

The exchange rate between Malaysian Ringgit and Aussie Dollars is pretty awesome (1 ringgit= 30 cents), but if that wasn’t enough; many things here in Malaysia are already a lot cheaper when compared with Australia. There is a wide variety of accommodation in KK, ranging from five-star quality hotels that charge around $90 a night, to budget accommodation. One place I must recommend is Masada Backpackers Hostel, which, for great accommodation, charges 10 ringitt ($3) a night! Outside of KK, rates are quite similar, so finding a place to stay is easy no matter what your budget is.

Food here is wide and varied, however if you’re looking for cheap food, stay away from restaurants catering for ‘western’ food: these are really delicious but tend to be quite expensive. The cheapest food is those found in many of the outdoor food markets, many of which resemble large food courts, and are just as delicious. Also it allows you to get out and see the sights a bit more.

Travelling from city-to-city is also quite affordable. Flights to Sandakan are around $100 Australian one-way at most, but is well worth it for many of the sights. Taxis as well tend to be quite cheap in Malaysia, so getting around the city usually is a breeze. Watch out for some taxi drivers though, some will try and overprice you.

#Foodbucketlist: Best eats? 

The Sabah diet is strongly based around rice. However, there are many local dishes, including stir fry’s and noodle dishes. Malaysians also love really sugary stuff in their diet, so be prepared for plenty of sweeteners. Also, almost all meat here will contain bones, so you’ll have to get the hang of picking bones out of your fish, chicken or beef.

However, fruit here is completely different to what you get in Australia. For those really wanting to try something new; Sabah has many multiple fruits, including langsats, a fruit resembling a white grape that has a sour taste; rambutans, a spikey fruit with a sweet tasting centre that resembles a lychee, the AMAZING mangosteens, a beautiful sweet purple fruit that is insanely addictive, or the legendary ‘Durian’ (king of fruits), that has a smell that resembles rotten onions, but the taste is ‘interesting.’ Do it for the experience.

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What advice would you give to other people who are traveling to Borneo or Malaysia?

  • Live in the moment- So often you have people going to places, taking a picture and leaving, saying that they have ‘seen’ the place. Sometimes, you cannot encapsulate everything in a picture. Sometimes, it’s best to put down the camera and have a moment that is just for you. You will remember it forever.
  • Lose your fear- Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path of our own comforts that we take for granted. Trying something different enables you to appreciate the world so much more. So just go for it.
  • Be prepared to see things that you are not used to, or ready to see- For me, I was forever changed by Borneo. The sight of palm oil plantations stretching for miles is a big wakeup call, and made me realise how fragile the world is. With that acknowledgement comes self-awareness, and with that comes appreciation for what you have back home.
  • Get into everything as much as you can- If you’re only going to be here for a little while, go in with full force. Explore the markets. Try new foods. Argue with taxi drivers over their overpricing. Get drunk. Don’t be afraid to just go. When else are you going to be doing this in your life? So just do it! And appreciate what you see.

 My travel mantra is…

Live in the moment. Travel for you. This is your life, and you have nothing to lose but inexperience, and everything to gain. Be fierce and committed to everything you do and everywhere you go. Be like a honeybadger, and do what you want.

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